Monthly Archives: July 2018

Log #70: Blackmail

Log

I am a fool.

I cannot now conceive of what madness struck me and persuaded me to trust Calhoun. Lynch, of course, had the right of it, and did not grant one iota of faith in that lying, mendacious blackguard; and so is Lynch innocent, both of folly, and of murder.

It is only we three, Kelly, Shane and myself, who are murderous fools.

After the slaughter, we returned to Dame Flanagan’s abode, Lynch opening the portal for MacManus and Kelly, though I am still barred from the house owing to my mistreatment of Meredith Vance. I laid my head in the beast-wagon, of course, as I have done these last many days; I kept my log, full of pride and vanity, and then slept the contented slumber of the victorious, of the righteous.

Until this morn, when I found that I had slept in the innocent oblivion of a fool for days; even though I have walked about, spoken, fought, struck devil’s bargains and, aye, committed more than one murder.

I discovered this in the late morning, near midday, when I was on the porch with my companions, plotting our course once we reach Bermuda, trying to determine how we would find our ship in that place, and how retrieve her. Lynch was within the house, pursuing I knew not what course. As we palavered thus, we were interrupted by the arrival of one Brick Calhoun, Bastard of Charleston. He arrived in a different beast-wagon than the decrepit tin-pot he had steered last night; this one was tall and shining like new silver, where it wasn’t lacquered a rich, gleaming black; the shape was more akin to a proper wagon, having a compartment for men near to the front and a long, low bed for cargo behind it. He came to a halt, making the beast growl – its voice was deeper and more powerful by far than the usual run of beast-wagons; this one made the window panes in Dame Flanagan’s house tremble as if in a storm blown down from the wintry north – and then he emerged, strutting, smiling, as if he had not a care in this world or the one after.

But he did bring cares for the rest of us, aye. Direful, woeful cares.

“Hey there, fellers,” he called out, with the bonhomie of a drunkard on New Year’s Eve, when every man will stand a drink for good luck’s sake. “How ye’all doin’ this fine and glorious Dixy-land day?” (I have not a single thought as to why he would call us fellers, which are, to my knowledge, woodsmen who fell trees. But there are many words that Calhoun uses, or misuses, and I do not understand why; so I have merely rendered his speech as I hear it.)

We three did glare at him in silence for some moments, proffering no further response to his greeting. “We have made a bargain with you, Calhoun,” quoth I, “but ‘twas neither for amicability nor hospitality, so press us not for civil intercourse with the likes of you.”

His smile vanished as I spoke, then slowly returned, like water seeping through a leak in a hull. “Shucks, I didn’t come here to press ye’all. Gnaw, I’m here to give you a present! A gift!” He removed a cell-phone from his pocket, showing it to us. “Ye’all want to see it? Take a look!” He touched the phone, tapping its glass face for some moments. Then he held it upright, the expression on his face one of eager anticipation.

It was a magic-window scene, and as such, something I did not wish to observe closely. I find that these magic windows give me a pain in my skull, and rarely if ever stand to a purpose beyond lies, vanity, and foolery for the sport of children. But I frowned and gazed into the glass in his hand, knowing that Calhoun would not come here without cause, and it behooved us to know what his intention was so that we might dismiss it, impede it, or permit it, as the case may be. Most like not the last, I did think. How little did I know.

It was a scene looked down upon from on high, as though we were cushion owners at a theatre, watching a performance from a rented box. There were four primary figures, all seemingly men, two pale and two dark of skin; one of the dark ones held his arm outstretched, pointing his finger – nay, it was a pistola – and speaking to the pale man, who held a sword –

The very moment I realized it, Kelly said, “Captain – it’s you!”

MacManus murmured, “It’s us,” and pointed towards the left side of the stone, where stood two men, farther away but still recognizable, largely because of Kelly’s size. When MacManus gestured, Calhoun drew the stone back, clearly not wishing MacManus to touch it; when MacManus dropped his hand, Calhoun thrust the stone closer to us once more, saying, “Look close, now. Don’t want to miss the good part.”

And we watched as I slashed the gun-toting dog’s wrist, and then hewed through the other’s neck. We could not see either the man above that Shane killed, nor the mighty stone that Kelly threw – that is, we watched him heft and hurl it, with a great shout, but not where it landed nor to what effect – but then the magic window turned, and we watched as we three slaughtered the men in the beast-wagon. Then it drew closer as I walked to the wounded dog, now lying on the ground, and I seemed just out of arm’s reach as I blinded the man and slew him with my blade. I looked back over my shoulder – at Calhoun, if I recall correctly – and then the window stopped moving, presenting a single image of my face, with the dead man lying on the ground behind me. Calhoun returned the glass to his pocket.

Gods. What have I gotten my men into? What have I done?

He held up one finger. “First thing: you boys need to know that I got friends, and they got copies o’ that there viddy-o. Anythin’ happens to me, they gone send it with your names an’ descriptions straight on to the police. So don’t be thinkin’ nothin’ ‘bout doin’ me like you done them fellers. Right?”

I exchanged a look with my men. We did not, if I may speak for them as well as for myself, understand all of what we had seen: we did not know how this magic window could see our past deeds as if they were occurring right now, nor if la policia would take our actions as murder, or a fair fight fairly won; nor if la policia could even find us, with but our names and descriptions. After all, the English have known my name, my ship, my face, for many a year, and still I had remained a free rover on the Irish seas; thus far we had known only the iron ships of the Guards of the Coast to be a formidable foe to us, and not the men of the city watch of Charleston. But we were all of us familiar with the ways of the blackmailer, the extortionist; ‘twas not often a stratagem between pirates, as we are not often protective of our good name and reputation in society; but we were not ignorant of the intrigues that happened in court and the like. I had no doubt that Calhoun would have made sure that his threats were both sincere and perilous before confronting us with them, knowing it would be the work of a moment for us to kill him where he stood. If he had learned nothing else from the killing last night, he would have learned that, having watched us butcher nine armed men like spring lambs.

“Aye,” I said to him, Kelly and Shane nodding beside me.

His arrogant face split into that impish grin. He held up another finger. “Second thing. I just gotta ask: does your arse hurt?”

I blinked my confusion, then shook my head. “Nay, we took no harm from the battle.”

Calhoun shook his head, and curled his two fingers back into his fist. “See, I would ha’ thought your arse would be burnin’ today. I mean, after I fucked that arse, and wrecked that arse – I’m surprised bein’ my bitch don’t hurt you none. But maybe after the shock wears off.” Then he laughed, long and loud and booming.

I mastered my temper by remembering my men. Just at this moment, I would fain have slaughtered this pig, and gone smiling to the gibbet for it – except I would not hang alone.

“What would ye have of us?” I asked him when his amusement fell to a pig’s snorts and grunts. “We’ve little money. Ah,” I said as it came to me then, “of course. We will move on and clear the field for ye to woo Meredith.” I started to turn and order my men to gather their belongings and weigh anchor, but Calhoun stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. It was all I could do to resist the urge to break his arm, but I was able to turn back to confront that grinning pig’s face.

“Hold on, now. That aint what this is about. Besides, Merry aint yours to give. Tell you the truth, if I wanted to take Meredith, there aint shit you could do to stop me.” He paused then, and after a moment raised his eyebrows. I realized he was awaiting some response from me, and so I nodded and gestured for him to go on. Perhaps he has the right of it; I have been enough of a fool over Meredith Vance, and I intend to stop dancing to her tune, any road. Saying this to the pig bothered my pride far less than the constant haranguing knowledge that I had given my men over to the grasp of this extortionist devil.

He smiled wide at what he saw as my capitulation, and then said, “Gnaw, I told you before, you go to that meetin’ with me, I’d see you get to Bermuda. I’m a man o’ my word, and so to Bermuda you go. But when you get there, see, there’s a thing ye’all’s gone do for me. Don’t worry,” he drew the Verizon-stone again and waggled it at us, “it aint nothin’ you didn’t already do nine times last night.” He put the cell-phone back into his pocket and turned away, laughing his booming pig-snort of a guffaw.

And then he ran face-to-face into Balthazar Lynch. Well, face-to-chest; Calhoun is my height, well above young Lynch, and twice the weight of the slender youth. But my man held his ground, and it was Calhoun who fell back from him, though from startlement, in the main. Lynch stared at him coldly. Calhoun cursed and reddened, his amusement curdled quickly into ire. He stepped close, looming over Lynch; and yet the lad backed away not an inch, not a step.

“You got somethin’ you want to say, you little shit?” Calhoun snarled, hands in white-knuckled fists. But the sly look was never far from his eyes, it seemed, and his gaze flickered back towards the three of us, his lip curling. “You didn’t see what I got on your boys, there. Want to look? See what it looks like to have three sets o’ balls in a vise?” He took out the cell-phone and waggled it – though he was careful to keep it out of Lynch’s easy reach, I saw. But Lynch did not react. His wintry stare remained frozen to Calhoun’s flushed face, which, I saw, was rapidly sallowing as the lad – no, as my man – stared him down, entirely without fear.

Then he spoke. “I follow my captain. He wishes to allow you to set our course for now, so be it. ‘Tis often the best way when facing a coward, and I will go where he wills it.” Lynch pointed at me, to show whose will he would follow. Then he tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. “But ere you leave, you will know this: if you make good on your threats, and doom my captain and my shipmates with whatever ye have on that ‘phone, then I will cut you open and feed your innards to the sharks while you watch.”

His face turning red once more, Calhoun grabbed for Lynch, but my man leaned back out of his grasp, and, with the speed of a hunting cat striking, he had a dagger drawn and the tip against Calhoun’s gut. Calhoun went still as a stump, and stand there for a moment, they did. Then Lynch said softly, “If they die, you die. Remember it.” He lowered the blade, stepped back and out of Calhoun’s path. The pig looked at him, then nodded, wiping his mouth. It was the nod of a man who recognizes an enemy; it held the assurance of enmity, Calhoun’s promise that he would find a way to best Balthazar Lynch, or die trying.

Lynch’s expression said clearly that he would die trying.

The pig looked back at the three of us – the weak-minded fools whom he had bested already – and his smile returned, his swagger with it. Ye gods, but I hate that I have given that verminous toad a reason to gloat. He strutted past Lynch without another glance, and swung up into his beast-wagon. He shut the hatch, brought the beast to life with a thunderous growl, and then pointed at me and called out, “I’ll be in touch, boys. Don’t go nowheres.” Off he roared.

Lynch turned to look at me, and I could not meet his eyes. There was but one man of worth in that place that day, and I could not bear the shame of it. It sickens me even now to write of it, to write of any of this. “Kelly, Shane,” I said, turning to them, seeing in their eyes the same humiliation I felt tearing at my gut, “Gather your gear. We be a danger to Dame Margaret’s house, now.” I turned halfway back, but could not bear to look at him to whom I now spoke. “Mr. Lynch,” I said, “I would ask that you stay, and bring us word from Calhoun when – when it comes.”

“Captain,” Lynch said then. He took a step toward me, reaching out with one hand.

I wish it had held the dagger, still. Perhaps I could have thrown myself upon it, regained some worth as a man. But his hand was empty.

“Nate?” he said.

I said nothing. I turned away. I skulked to my wagon-van, and then thought better of it. “Tell the Grables they have earned this wagon. They should take it and depart: there is naught else of value for them here.” I turned and looked at MacManus. “I will head east. Catch me up when you are equipped.” He nodded, and he and Kelly went inside, moving quickly but with heads low and shoulders bent.

Lynch reached me. He grabbed hold of my wrist. “Nate, wait,” he said.

I pulled my arm from his grasp. I’d have done it with force, perhaps cuffed the boy for his impudence, but I had not the authority to chastise him; not now. Nor the strength: the weight of my shame had exhausted me entirely. Without looking at him, I spake these words. “If ye wish to remain when we three sail to Bermuda, I do hereby set ye free of all oaths, all bonds of loyalty. They are nothing now but chains, that will weigh ye down, drag ye to the hellish depths where I writhe now. If ye will bear word to us, that is all I would ask. All I can ask of ye, now.”

“Nate, please!” he said, and I heard tears in his words.

I looked at him then, at his clear features, his large eyes now awash with salt drops. “Ye’re a good man, Balthazar,” I told him. “I am sorry that I am not.”

Then I walked away. Lynch let me go.

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Log #69: Heavy Men

Warrior Captain’s Log

September the 29th, a Day of Victory

 

HA! The men of the Grace of Ireland play the heavy better than does any rogue of this age! Sure and we fell too heavily for them to bear, this night.

Perhaps I should not gloat: men have died; these past hours their last. But ‘twas not I and ‘twas not my men: we have evaded harm and turned that harm upon our enemies, though they did outnumber us two to one. Three to one if I count not our erstwhile leader into this fray, Brick Calhoun, and as he proved useless when called to the line, I do hereby discount him, and claim the victory and the glory entire for the men of the Grace. The men of Ireland.

Allow me to record the events of this past evening. I find I am too wakeful to seek the embrace of night’s dreams; when a warrior’s blood is roused, it does not calm quickly, nor with ease; perhaps the task of encapsulating these circumstances on these pages will soothe my reddish gaze back into placidity.

Calhoun brought a beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode this eve, the very night selected for this rendezvous. The wagon was in poor repair, even to eyes as inexperienced as mine own in these matters; I could discern gaps where the skin should be whole, rust and scars and wounds where it should be smooth. Even the sound of its rumbling growl minded me of an aged hound with catarrh. Shane did offer to bring Calhoun aboard our wagon-van, but the American insisted on piloting his own sickly beast with myself seated beside him. So Kelly and MacManus did follow in the van, while Lynch, who refuses to have aught to do with the entire endeavor, will remain at Dame Margaret’s to stand guard here. I know not if the lad be more disgusted with Calhoun or myself; I suspect the latter, however. No matter: though he be a doughty ally in a donnybrook, he does not look altogether menacing, the which being our primary purpose, we supposed it were just as well that Lynch would remain behind to watch over our friends and allies. We did not doubt that we three could play the heavy to Calhoun’s heart’s content.

And thus I rode with him, though I maintained a cold distance between us where he would have warm fellow-feeling. He tried to speak with me on many a topic, ranging from women, to female creatures, to the fairer sex, to one woman in particular and common between we two; but I had not interest in plumbing the depths of that cad and his scoundrel’s treatment of Meredith. He did endeavor to speak of the games they play hereabouts, to which he applied the term “sport.” But I have less enchantment with conversation about frolicking and lollygagging than I do in the assertions made vis-a-vis femininity by one Beaujolais “Brick” Calhoun of South Carolina; when he did mention this sport, I withered the topic with a glance; eventually he turned to the confrontation impending, and what I could expect from same.

“Awright,” he slurred, “so these boys we gone meet with, they call theyselves gangstas, you unnerstan?”

Of course I did not, and accordingly I informed him.

“Awwwwright,” he slurred his words even slower, rendering them even more difficult to comprehend, “they think they thugs.”

“And what be this thugs?”

I endeavored not to enjoy his discomfiture overmuch, but the pleasure was undeniable.

“They think they hard, okay?” he said after some time grinding his teeth like millstones, and blowing air out of his nose like a heated bull.

I nodded complacently. “Of course,” I told him, straining to hold the smile off of my face. “’Tis little worse than a man who believes himself greater or more terrible than he truly is. Such vanity is the cause of much suffering, not least for the man himself.” He glanced at me with suspicion in his countenance, but I merely stared forward, my expression clean and pure as new snow.

“Right. So the play is like this. We all, them and me, we in the same business, same line of work, right? Now there’s plenty of room for my operation alongside theirs, but they don’t see it that way. So we, tonight, we gone convince them to share the wealth, like.”

I nodded slowly. “And if they are averse to sharing?”

Calhoun smiled his true smile: the sinister one. “Then we – persuade them.” I nodded again, though I perceived a distinct lack of forethought and consideration in this course he plotted.

I had known men like Calhoun, and circumstances like this one, ere now. In some ways Calhoun was like myself: what he could not earn fairly, he would take at the point of a sword. Well and good, says Damnation Kane of the Brotherhood of the Coast; I cannot even fault him for being unwilling to spend his youth patiently waiting for a more virtuous opportunity; I have writ before of the impatience epitomized in myself and in my brother pirates.

But the differences ‘twixt Calhoun and rovers such as I myself are vast chasms, in truth. For I would not attack a fellow rover in order to take from him some territory he did lay claim to. Especially not in my home port, which I wot Charleston was to this rascal. I cannot fathom a man who, rather than striking out at distant enemies while keeping his blade sheathed and spreading goodwill while he is to home, would turn and fire at the men beside him, walking the same streets, drinking from the same stream, as he himself. Why would he begin a blood feud in his own home? Where he lays his head to rest? Where he is at his most vulnerable and in need of staunch allies – such as these fellow gentlemen of fortune, who, being as they pursued the same endeavors in the same locale, would surely make better shipmates than rivals?

And then, the matter of shipmates. Why would a man setting out on a hazardous course sail alongside utter strangers – particularly one whom he did see as a rival to his would-be love’s affections? Why would you trust a man with whom you had traded blows, to stand at your back with naked steel, while you turned those who could be friends into bitter foes?

Aye. I saw it, too. A man would more likely bring that rival into a trap. I suspected these hard men of Calhoun’s were in truth Calhoun’s men, and rather than a negotiation, we were headed for what Calhoun hoped would be an execution. Shane and Kelly and I had discussed this very possibility earlier this day, and we expected to find ourselves in Calhoun’s snare. But of course, a snare spied before one steps into the loop is more likely to turn deadly for the trapper than the erstwhile prey.

For now, to keep him complacent, I pretended a sincere credulity with Calhoun’s falsehoods, and attempted to appear eager for the task he would set for us. “Be there any limit to how we should persuade them, should the need arise?” asked I.

Calhoun shrugged. “Go as far as you got to, as far as you willing.” He looked over at me while the beast-wagon grumbled and coughed idly, its froward motion stilled at a crossroads. “I guess it depends on just how far you willing to go to win Merry. Remember, she’s the prize here, not my business. That’s my business. Yours is the girl. Aint it?”

I looked him in the eye and nodded. “Aye. For her. I do this for Lady Meredith’s sake.” And I knew this was why his trap was so poorly concealed: he thought me too besotted to see any danger.

He does not know Damnation Kane.

We arrived soon after – ahead of schedule, as Calhoun had intended. The parlay was to occur in a structure named, according to a placard affixed to its street-side face, Parking Garage. ‘Twas like unto a stone marketplace, a wide open space without walls, reached by mounting a spiraled rampart; it seemed there were several marketplaces placed one atop the other in this Garage of Parking. Yet all of them stood empty; of course this was after sun’s set, and the close of the day’s commerce; but none of the stalls held a seller’s structures, not tents nor shelves nor containers; none of them gave evidence of being the sole property of a merchant who has claimed a favored place, and disallows another to take it from him, by building something permanent in the space or by manning it overnight with a guardian. So what use are these many marketplaces, then, if they have no marketeer? I could not see the wisdom in crowding good open spaces atop one another like the decks of a ship; again, these Americalish seem unwilling to live in the vast spaces they possess, preferring to crowd together like men in a prisoning cell. But I did see on the instant how well-suited was this place for this sort of affair: given privacy from passersby because of the heighth of the upper levels, still it was sufficiently open to prevent hidden ambuscades or surreptitiousnesses – or so I thought. We four mounted to the upmost level, open to the sky and bounded on two sides by taller structures, but empty otherwise. Calhoun told off Kelly and MacManus, placing them by the back wall, beside the open doors of our beast-van, while he and I stood in the open center and waited.

We did not wait long. Soon our guests arrived, riding in a wide, flattish barge-like beast-wagon, gliding low to the ground and thumping with what passed for music on these shores. They, too, stopped at the far wall; there were six of them, all Africk by their dark skin, and four did remain inside the wagon while two emerged and came forward to dicker with Calhoun.

I stood, arms crossed and boots planted, awaiting them; Calhoun raised a hand in greeting. The one rogue tossed his head back – much as had that traitorous serpent Shluxer – and said, “You Brick?”

Calhoun nodded. “That’s me.”

The men approached within three paces – just out of arm’s reach, if a man were to reach out with naught in his hand – and stopped. “I’m Vincent. This my boy Elton.”

The second man had eyes only for me, and a grin as insolent as Calhoun’s. “Damn, son – where you find Captain Hook at?” he inquired, and though he had the name wrong, I was impressed that he knew me for a pirate captain.

And perhaps he had been forewarned that one such as I would be present this eventide.

I did not reach for my hilt, but I uncrossed my arms and let my hands hang loose and ready by my belted sash.

Calhoun gestured towards me. “This’s Damnation Kane.” Elton chortled at my name, but I am inured to laughter and gibes, and it bore no sting. Calhoun glanced at me, but said nothing.

Vincent, clearly the man in command, pointed back at my two men by the beast-wagon. “Who they?” he asked.

“They are my men,” I spake, though he had addressed his query to Calhoun. “They will bide as they are unless I hail them. And stay peaceful until, and unless, I command elsewise.”

The fool, Elton, chortled anew. “Oh, you plannin’ to go to war, Cap’n?” He pointed at the sheathed blade on my hip. “With that? Look, V – he brought a sword. That a sword, Cap?”

At this invitation, I drew my blade, to let the steel answer his question for me.

But it seemed that this answer was insufficiently clear, for he scoffed. “That real?”

I raised an eyebrow, turned the sword so that the light, provided mainly by the three beast-wagons, struck the blade. “If your eyes cannot see steel, perhaps you should question your eyes more than the blade, or the mind behind them. For it is not my sword that is dull.”

The mirth drained from his face, and we did lock gazes for a long moment. Then he drew a pistola from his belt. “You see that shit, Cap’n?” he asked, taking aim at me.

Well, and I had drawn first. Since we were still speaking to one another, I felt little threat, for the nonce. “Aye, I see it well, but my eyes were not the ones in question.”

His eyes widened while his mouth pursed smaller. He took a step towards me. “If you see this gun, then why you still mad-doggin’ me? You think I won’t shoot yo ass?” His accent broadened as his agitation increased. No better control of himself than has the mad dog he named me, though for my part, my sword’s point was grounded by my boot.

I smiled for him. “I think you will wish you had,” I told him. Calhoun stepped a pace away from me then, and in that movement, I had my confirmation of his intent – or perhaps of his cowardice. Either impelled me to spring the trap before it could close its teeth on me, and I readied my strike, awaiting my moment.

But Vincent spoke first. “Hold on, hold on – something you white boys should see.” He put two fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. Coming around a corner on our right flank, where a sign read “STAIRS,” two men stepped forward, both carrying thunder-guns; another man on our left flank, stepping out of shadows atop the structure that stood beside this Parking Garage, took aim along the barrel of his musket at Calhoun and myself. I would have said his distance was too great to threaten me, but I am still unfamiliar with the attributes of these modern weapons.

I tightened my grip on my ancient weapon. Calhoun took another step back.

The fellow Elton took a step towards me. “That’s right, you think we don’t roll deep, motherfucker?”

My patience vanished like clouds at noon. “Do not speak of my mother –” I began.

The man’s brows lowered and he shook the pistola at me. I wished to tell him that such was not the manner of a pistola’s use; I would have to take it from him and instruct him properly. He spat words at me: “Nigga, if I fucked yo mama right in front of you with my big black dick, you shut up and say Thank you, just like she would!” At this sally, his crewmate Vincent laughed, and the rogue turned to grin at his companion, saying, “The fuck this guy thinkin’?”

Dull indeed: I would have to teach him not to lose sight of a threat as well as instructing him in manners. Alas that he would not live to retain the lessons. I struck as he turned: the blade, already bared and in my hand, swung up, the point slicing into the man’s wrist, spraying blood as his pistola clattered to the ground. He clutched at his wound with a cry, and I completed my stroke, spinning the blade over my head, taking a two-handed grip and slashing halfway through the neck of Vincent, my blade too light to part his spine, but sharp enough to spill his life’s blood on the ground.

I looked into the man’s dying eyes. He put a hand on the blade, disbelieving its presence in his throat; his other hand tried to draw a pistola from his belt, but I reached down and plucked it from his hand. “I’m thinking you should not have come here this night,” I told him. Then he fell. A shout rose, and I called out, “Ireland! Kill them all!” and then lunged towards the dull rogue as the shooting began.

It began with our enemies: the man high above fired at me, while the beast-barge before us roared into life, men leaning out of the sides with pistolas and thunder-guns. The two men on our right flank were unready; I heard shouts, but not shots.

Then my men entered the fray. Shane, standing on the port side of the van-wagon, raised the pistola he had concealed in his shirt, took careful aim, and fired several shots at the sharpshooter on the roof beside; the man spun and fell, plummeting down to the Parking Garage. Kelly, in the meantime, drew from the side of our wagon-beast his own particular weapon for this fight: a great jagged stone, the size of two men’s heads. He heaved it to his shoulder, stepped forward, and flung it with all his force: it arced over the battle and plummeted directly through the eye-window of the beast-barge just as it started forward. The glass shattered with a mighty crash and the wagon spun to a halt. This remarkable sight stunned the two flankers, allowing MacManus to turn and fire on them, killing both.

In the meantime, my dull-eyed, flap-tongued rogue appeared not to understand that a sword-slashed wrist will not hoist a pistola; he fumbled for some seconds on the ground for his weapon, cursing steadily; this gave me time to withdraw my sword from his crewmate’s weasand, and find a grip on my newly-acquired pistola, just as he thought to try with his left hand. Too late: I lunged forward, thrusting the point through his right shoulder; he cried out and fell, and I slashed along his leg as he sprawled before me. I trod on his pistola to keep it from his sinister grasp, and then I raised Vincent’s weapon in my left hand, aimed, and fired, killing one of the thunder-guns leaning from the side of the beast-barge. The other men fired at me, and I crouched to make a smaller target of myself as shot droned and screamed around me; Calhoun shouted and ran several steps away, throwing himself to the ground to escape the broadside. Kelly and Shane raced forward, shouting, their guns adding their voices to the battlecry. The rogues in the beast-barge turned their aim on my men, allowing me to aim and fire, killing another; they turned their aim on me, and Shane shot the third man, leaving only the pilot of the barge-wagon. And then Kelly reached the wagon, and, reaching in through the shattered eye-glass, he drew the man half out of the wagon, and beat his head against the metal skin, and then throttled him with those mighty hands, at last breaking the man’s spine with a sharp twist of the neck.

The rest of his crew sent to Hell, I strode to where Elton lay bleeding. He looked up at me, pleading with those dull, stupid eyes.

I swung my blade and cut them out of his head. Then I stabbed him through the heart. I know not how many men of this time that I will have to kill before the learn not to insult my mother to me; but this was one more towards that aim.

“Holy shit!”

It was Calhoun, and I turned to face him, prepared – though unwilling – to kill one more man this night. I whistled, and my men came to my side. But Calhoun was not seeking a fray; rather he was grinning from ear to ear, his eyes as wide as a child’s at a fair-day feast. “You fuckin’ killed all of ‘em! Holy shit!” he cried out again, rising from his knees to his feet, stumbling first towards the two corpses at my feet, then towards the beast-barge and its load of death, and then towards the sprawled and broken limbs of the sharpshooter, closest to where Calhoun had gone to ground.

“Aye, with not a bit of help from thee,” I retorted, stooping to wipe the blood from my blade against the corpse of the fool who had begun this hurly-burly – though I still doubted not that, had the dull lump not spake against my mother, then somewhat else would have set the guns to blasting; this battle had been foreordained ere we arrived at this place, and would have happened whether I drew first blood or no.

Something flashed in Calhoun’s eyes, and he cocked his head, putting his fingers to his ear. “What was that? Say it again?” he asked loudly.

By the Morrigan’s crows, we are surrounded by the daft and the lame: the man who could not see, the crew of rogues who could not aim – all those shots, and my men and I ‘scaped injury entirely – and now this dastard who could not hear? “Without any help from you,” I said loudly. “We three won this day.”

Calhoun grinned like the fool he is and nodded. “That’s right, you boys won, all right. Won big. You done all this, and I aint done nothin’, aint raised a finger. Just standin’ here, this whole time.” He looked around at the carnage, shaking his head and – laughing? “Come on,” he said, “let’s get out of here before the cops show up.” He drew his finger across his throat and then laughed again. “Goddamn!” he said.

Then came we thus away. We drove our wagons some short distance, and then he stopped, unhesitatingly shook my bloody hand with his clean one, and bade us return in our beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode. He waxed poetic to me over our prowess and valor in combat, and said he had no remaining doubts in offering Meredith to me. Then off he drove in his rattling derelict, and MacManus piloted us here, where I have kept this log.

 

Calhoun may have no doubts. I have them all. He was joyed by our victory; yet surely that trap was meant to destroy us. Were those not his allies, called forth to smite his rival? Was that not why, as I had suspected despite the hot blood that made me strike, the dull fool had been so quick to speak curses and draw his pistola? If not, why did Calhoun lead us into a rendezvous that should not, in the common run of events, have ended with our victory? We were outnumbered; why would he expect us to emerge unconquered? If he wanted our defeat, as seemed more likely, then why was he joyed that we did vanquish our foes?

And what of Meredith Vance? Is she mine? Is she Calhoun’s to give to me, like coins for services rendered? Whatever he might answer, or my heart, I think I know what Meredith would say to that. Can I trust that Calhoun will give us the promised aid in reaching my true aim, my beloved Grace? If he will not, will Meredith pilot us there? Should I ask her as though begging a boon of an ally, or as a lover seeking a token of affection? Which will be more like to succeed? Which will be more like to draw her ire?

Aye. We were the heavy tonight. And now it is my heart that is heavy, my heart and my mind. I fear I will sink forever into these murky depths, and emerge nevermore.

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Log #68: Entanglements, continued

(Continued)

I do not know how long I sat there, but after some time, Dame Margaret came into the room. I stood, of course, and wished her a good morning. She nodded, but did not smile nor return my good wishes. Instead she said, “I hope, Mister Kane, that I may still call you friend.”

This knocked the wind from my sails. “My lady – Margaret – I wish you would call me Nate, or Damnation, as you have in past.”

She looked long at me, but not fondly. Then she shook her head. “I will not. You see, I heard what you said to my granddaughter last night. I would ask your forgiveness for eavesdropping, but I do not want forgiveness from you.”

I had to drop my gaze lest I burn to a cinder on the spot from pure shame.

She went on. “I will not withdraw my offer of hospitality, as I understand that you are in need – and your men have a place in my heart, and therefore in my home – but I will insist that you focus your efforts towards moving on from here. And that while you are still here, you do not try to speak to Meredith.”

She came to my side, placing her hand on my shoulder. “I am not naive, Mister Kane. I recognize that it takes two to tango, and that three in the dance is bound to cause a fall. I am sure that Meredith is not innocent of blame, and that is why I hope I can, at least, still call you friend.” She patted my shoulder and then withdrew her hand. “But friend or not, no one who speaks that way to my only granddaughter will ever again be welcome in my home.”

She went out. When I could rise, and trust my legs to bear both my weight and the weight of my shame, I went out, as well, to the van, where I sat and tried to gather my wits, so that I could find and take the next step, not that the path had been so clearly laid out for me as to where I must walk away from, if not entirely where I must go.

Should I seek out a new pilot, a new flying ship? There were complications, of course; Meredith had seen fit to conceal our entry onto the dragon-train, and had said somewhat about necessary items which we lacked. I must presume that these same sorts of items would be requisite for passage aboard a flying ship. Of course any lack of permission could be overcome with sufficient silver; Morty had shown me that with his selling of a “permit” to accompany my wheel-gun. Bribing a man you do not know, who does not have a reputation for being available to bribe, is a most dangerous deed to attempt; a bribe to the wrong person, or the wrong bribe to the right person, would sour the deal entirely, and leave us with nothing – perhaps even a new enemy, if the offer of a bribe should be taken as insult, as indeed it may well be.

We could not steal a flying ship, but we could press the pilot into service. Such was a choice of last resort, though, as we could not possibly expect to read a flying ship’s course or charts and know if the pilot took us in the demanded direction, towards the intended destination. We could sail out to the middle of the empty sea, and there perish.

We could steal a ship. Perhaps we should steal a ship. Alas that I had not taken the Emperor Grable when opportunity presented itself! Damn Lynch for telling me I was too good to take a ship, when he himself now thinks I am not good enough for anything!

Damn him for being right.

 

Later

And now, a new path has appeared, from an entirely unanticipated direction.

As I sat there, the hatch on the side of the van open so that I could perch on the frame with my boots planted on the ground beside it, recording this log and simmering in my shame and ire, I heard footsteps approach, and then stop some distance away. Wary that it may be another round of humiliation and chastisement, I took my time looking up from the log to recognize my visitor. But then recognize him I did.

‘Twas Brick Calhoun.

I came to my feet, throwing this log back into the van and clenching my fists, but he held up his empty hands, taking a step back. “Whoa, there, fella, I come in peace,” he said, waving his hands as though to dissuade me from exacting some measure of revenge for my misery.

“Have ye, now,” I asked, my blood beginning to boil at that black-eyed serpent’s temerity – and aye, that anger felt a thousandfold better than did my shame. “’Tis a pity, then, that I do not feel peaceable towards you.” I took a step towards him. I thought then that if he had never come to this house, then none of this terrible storm of shite would have descended on us: I would still be wooing my Meredith – who would still be my Meredith – and my men could be planning how we would find the Grace once I had won her heart enough, at least, to ask her for the boon of passage to Bermuda. But all, all, had been laid waste by this filthy, dung-souled, crass misbegotten ruffian.

He took another step back. “Hold on, now, dammit, just hold on a minute. Listen – I talked to Merry.”

Now why would he think that talking to the woman I would have loved, had he not descended on us like fire and brimstone shat from the devil’s arse, would calm my ire? But I did pause: because a small, foolish part of my soul said to me, Perhaps she regrets her words, her deeds. Perhaps she sent him to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps even a fresh start for we two, without the weight of a Brick.

I did pause, at the least. “Aye?” I muttered, my teeth still clenched with rage.

He nodded. “Yeah. I went and saw her at work, this mornin’. I wanted her side of the story. She said –” He put his hands down, rubbed them on his trousers. He dropped his gaze, as well. “She said that, while I was gone – I been gone for a good long while – she met you. And she didn’t mean for it to happen, but, you two had something. A connection. A spark.”

For a moment, his words made joy leap into my heart, the small foolish voice in me beginning to soar forth in song. But the ice in my breast stopped that joy dead. “I think she would not say that now,” I said quietly.

He looked at me from the corner of his eye. “What, did you all have yourselves a lil’ tiff of somethin’?” I saw the beginning of his ugly sneer, and my ire rose once more. But then he wiped the smirk away, and said, “Doesn’t matter. Ye all can work that out. What matters is this: I aint gonna hold Merry back from what she wants, even if what she wants is – if it aint me.”

I looked him in the eye, and judged him sincere. I nodded in acknowledgement.

“But listen,” he went on. “Damn – is your name really Damnation?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Aye. And your mother named ye Brick, did she?”

He smiled a wide, toothy grin – though I noted, not without pleasure, that he winced and touched at his swollen and split lower lip. My own jaw was throbbing apace with my heart. “Naw, Mama named me Beaujolais after her favorite wine. Brick’s just a nickname I picked up.” He held out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Damnation.”

I did not want to clasp his hand. I wanted to beat him into a bloody smear on the ground. But I had to right this ship, take us off of the shoals where I had nearly wrecked us. So I took his hand with mine, and said, “’Tis more of a pleasure than our first meeting.”

Wonder not, any soul reading of this log, how I could manage to clasp hands with a man for whom I felt naught but the blackest hatred, that I could tamp down my burning ire sufficient to find words, and polite words, at that. I am Irish. I have had to smile in the face of Englishmen as they robbed and beat my friends, my mates, my family. I have had to smile in the face of Irishmen as they did the same, because we were of a different clan, or because they were Catholic and we were Protestant – or because they were Protestant and I and my mother were – something else. The anger burns on: but I can smoor it when the need arises. Too, though the rage was burning, there was that small part of my soul, still wishing to believe the truth in his words, still wishing to burst into song. Still hoping that she – might love me, and only me.

I realized, as our hands gripped one another, that his finger was bandaged, and I fished the ring out of my sash, having retrieved it from the porch this morning. I offered it to him, and he released our clasp and took the ring with another cheek-splitting grin. Unable to put it on, he put it in his pocket.

“But listen, there’s somethin’ I gotta know. You understand that if I’m gonna step aside for you and Merry, I gotta make sure you can take care of her, you know? You get me?” I nodded and opened my mouth to speak, but he went on, my nod having been sufficient reply. “So I got this proposition, then. I got some business to take care of, and it might get a little rough. So I was thinkin’, if you and me could, y’know, bury the hatchet, and you could come and help me out – well, then I’ll see with my own eyes that you can handle yourself, and since you’ll be doin’ me a solid, it won’t be so hard for me to lose Merry to you, y’know?” He looked me in the eyes, and I could see him weighing, calculating, trying to sound how I took his proposal. “So, what d’you say?”

It was an honorable offer to make, both in the making of it to me, and in the reason behind it. A man should know that his rival is worthy of the prize before he surrenders it to him; else, a proper man, who has some understanding of how to protect and provide for a woman, must kill the other man rather than allow him to seduce and degrade the woman he loves, even if the act means the woman will not belong to either man. I had to admit a growing respect for this Brick – and I had to quash the still-urgent need to beat him into the ground, and the distaste I felt whenever he smiled. Again, though, this was not a prodigious difficulty for me to overcome: these are the same urges I have felt every time I had seen and spoken with Sean O’Flaherty or Ned Burke for these last years, and before they betrayed me, I was able to both respect and fight with them. I should have the same capacity for this rogue – for am not I, too, a rogue? Pirate that I am, and bastard?

But Lynch’s words echoed in my mind, then, and I knew that I had to refuse him. “I grant ye honor, sir, and my respect for this day’s words from ye. ‘Tis a manly offer ye make, and ye make it like a man. But I must tell ye that I am not come here to woo the lady. I have let my heart distract me from my true purpose, and I must now return to seeking my goal, and shut my heart up once more within my breast. I had come to Charleston to ask Meredith to give passage to myself and my men in her flying ship; now that – our lover’s tiff, as you say – has sunk this endeavor, I must seek passage elsewhere.” I tried to smile, but I fear it was more bitter than gallant. “So I think I must offer my best wishes to ye and – your Meredith.” Then I held out my hand once more.

His face turned sly. The expression suited his physiognomy far closer than a friendly smile or honest contrition. “Hold on, now. Now this changes things. Maybe now you and me can do some business like a couple of friendly fellas, ‘stead of all this pussy-footin’ around lovey-dovey shit.” I let my hand sink, but he grasped my arm. “Now hold on. You’re sayin’ you wanted to get Meredith to – what, to fly you somewheres?”

I nodded. Despite my newfound respect for him, his touch still perturbed me. “I and my men, aye.”

He smirked at me, but with humor more than smuggery. “I and aye? What are ya, some kinda rasta?” I must have shown my confusion on my face, for he waved it away. “Where to?” he asked, returning to the concern at hand.

I wanted to conceal it from him – but for what reason? “The island of Bermuda.”

His face lit like a lantern. His eyes became even more sly, and I began to feel like a hen conversing with a weasel. “Well, hell, boy, we can make a deal! Listen: let’s put aside everything, ‘kay? All that ruckus yesterday, and ever’thing ‘bout Merry. Just hear me out. I need help, the kinda help I’m bettin’ you and your boys’d be plenty good at. And if you all help me out, I’ll fly ye all to Bermuda ‘fore the week is up. I gotta buddy got an airplane, and I’ll charter the flight myself. You know Merry’s got herself a gummint charter anyhow, gone last a week or more, so even if she said she’d do it, she couldn’t get you there, not so soon as I can.”

I shook my head slowly. “This is too fortuitous a circumstance. You coincidentally happen to have need of myself and my men? And by some lucky chance you happen to have – an ally” (I know not what this “buddy” is, but presume since he felt he could promise passage on the man’s vessel that my word was sufficient. It could not be a gardener, could it? One who deals in flower buds?) “who can get us to our destination?” I crossed my arms. “It strains credulity.”

He blinked at me, clearly not comprehending my words. But he caught the heart of it, and responded. “Hey, man, it aint like what you and your boys do is unusual. Ye all bad-asses, right? Least you is, as I have reason to know. Figure boys that hang with a bad-ass gone be bad-asses themselves, ‘specially that big fella with the one eye.”

I could not understand why he would refer to us as poor donkeys, but he went on before I could inquire.

“I got this meetin’ I got set up. With people who – don’t really want to work with me. In fact, they may have reason to try to sink me in the swamp, you get me?”

Now this did not strain credulity: in point of fact, I would have been far more surprised if this man had not had enemies who wished to kill him. I found it serendipitous that the people of this land made use of their own swamps – which I thought were somewhat like our Irish peat bogs – for the same purpose they served back home: to hide that which would best never see the light of day. I confess I would not have grieved had this man found himself in the depths of this swamp. But to the point: this made sense to me. “Very well,” I said.

He continued. “As for me havin’ a buddy what can fly ye all to where you wanta go, well, hell, I gotta lotta buddies. And you ask around, you’re gone find there’s a lotta folks can fly them little swampjumpers ’round here. Little planes, hold ‘bout four, six people,” he clarified when I looked askance. Because I looked askance, he moved in closer and lowered his voice. “’Nother thing. My business I got? With these fellas? Well, it’s got somethin’ to do with bringin’ things into town. Things I don’t want the authorities to know ‘bout, you get me?”

It struck me then. “You’re a smuggler!”

He frowned, blinked, and then shrugged. “Yeah, guess you could say so, sure. I bring shit in I aint supposed to bring in, and sell it in town.”

I nodded. “Aye, avoiding the excisemen.”

He blinked again. “Uhhh, sure, yeah. And so these fellas, they’re in the same line o’ work, and they don’t necessarily want to share it with me, even though there’s plenty room for all of us, and if they work with me I’ll be makin’ ever’body a whole lot of cheddar, if y’ follow me. So I got this meetin’ with ‘em, but if I go all by my lonesome, they aint gone take me serious.”

I nodded. “You need myself and my men to play the heavy.”

Brick smiled. Somehow, this smile I liked. “You got it, boy. Play the heavy at my meet, and then I’ll get you on a plane to Bermuda.”

This put an entirely different face on it. Of course he had access to transport; I would lay a feather against a doubloon that the same craft that carried us away would bring an illicit cargo back, thus assuring his profit and explaining his apparent generosity to me. And he would be a man who would seek those outside the law, as I and my men, to serve as his guard as he attempted to force his way into a closed market, as it were – and though I could call on my crew should I find myself in similar circumstances, should I have a reason to hold a perilous converse with an enemy, well I knew that there were many and many a man living in the shadows as we did, who had no close allies or compatriots, but who would rely on those he could hire as necessary. Again, I could well imagine this man as one who had many connections and bargain-partners, but no close friends; who could abide his company joyfully?

How could Meredith abide him?

But that was of no matter now. What was of import was that this man, with his business clandestine, outside the law and likely outside propriety, could very well furnish to us what we had need of, in exchange for a task that was, indeed, well within our area of expertise. In truth, though I did not and never would be fond of him, still I would far more readily trust a rogue than an honest man, for an endeavor such as this; for as Lynch had asked me: am I not a pirate?

Brick held out his hand. “What d’you say?”

This time, I took his hand readily, and clasped it manfully. Said I, “We have an accord.”

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Log #67: Entanglements

Log

September 26

 

And so my first attempt at unknotting this tangle has gone less well than one would have hoped. In truth, I appear to have tried cutting the Gordian knot with my dull and clumsy tongue, instead of a blade as Alexander used. And in the attempt, it seems, I have made the knot worse. Aye, I have indeed entangled my tongue into that knot.

After we chased the rogue Calhoun away and doctored the hurts he dealt me, I did little over the course of the evening, even as my men and the Grables kept Dame Margaret company, but sit on the porch and stare at the ring I had taken from that split-tongued scupperlout. I stared at the ring, and pictured the similar circlet of silver on Meredith’s finger, and I waited, impatient for her return.

She came at last near six bells of the first watch, a mere hour before midnight. I had placed myself in the shadows, lest she use another entry to the house and avoid me thus, as she had done when last I saw her. The subtlety was successful: she came to the porch from her beast-wagon, her gaze on the van, watching carefully for me, and I let her mount the steps before I sprang my ambuscade. She moved slowly, seeming exhausted, worn thin.

Perfect, thought I. Easy prey.

I stood and strode into the light, giving her a start – perhaps more than a start, as she voiced a cry nigh unto a scream, and fell back against the railing, the presence of which was her sole savior from a tumble off the porch. She saw it was I and closed her eyes, breathing deep, hand on her chest, presumably to slow her racing heart. If she hath a beating heart at all, that is.

“I met a man today,” I told her, without preamble. I held out my hand with the ring, still blood-marked, on my open palm. “He wore this.”

She frowned at it, looking to her own ring, set on the middle finger of her left hand. “It looks like mine.”

The flood of ire that had been held back heretofore by my will broke the dam, then, and I closed my hand and then flung the ring against the side of the house, where it struck with a crack like a whip. “Aye!” I shouted at her. “It looks like yours because ‘tis the mate of yours! Because you, like that ring, have a mate!”

She pulled her head back, frowning at me, her face as pale as milk. “What are you talking about?”

I slapped the pillar beside me so I would not strike her – because in truth I wished to strike her, aye. “Ye know right well! You – are – betrothed!”

Her eyes went wide as saucers. “I’m – what?”

I did shake my fists at her then, though I did not threaten her. “Betrothed, damn ye! That ring shows that ye be claimed as another man’s property! And yet ye cozened with me while ye wore it!”

Meredith’s fists went to her hips and now she thrust her face forward, her teeth bared as though she would snap at me, her pale cheeks now flushing bright red. “Excuse me? I am no one’s goddamn property! And what did you say – cozened with you? How dare you?”

I stepped forward to meet her, the two of us eye to eye, near nose to nose as we shouted and cursed one another. “Aye, cozened me, like a strumpet! Trying to turn your betrothed into a cuckold, and have me put the horns on him!” I had to turn away then, for I will never strike a woman. No matter how I am provoked.

“You son of a bitch –” she spat out at me, but I o’ershouted her. “Why? Tell me why ye did it, why ye did not tell me ye were promised and bound to another!”

She stamped her foot. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, but I’m not fucking bound to anyone, I have never seen that ring, and who the fuck are you to attack me like this?”

I had to laugh at that, a bitter chuckle without a scrap of mirth: I felt as though I might never feel mirth again in this life. “Ah, lass, when ye play with a man, lie to a man, betray a man, ye give him some right to demand satisfaction of ye, as the injured party.”

She had naught to say to that, her mouth flapping like a hooked fish’s.

I knew I had her, then, caught in her own web of deceit. I held up a hand. “Nay, ye need not speak; I know just what ye’d say. Your man was away, perhaps ye had doubts that ye could keep him to home, and so ye played your feminine wiles, played the harlot, to test your power over men. Over me. Ye meant no harm by it, it perhaps went further than ye intended it to go, and then ye could not bring yourself to speak of it, did not want to admit ye’d betrayed your lord and master.”

I had meant to go on, to say that I understood and I forgave her her flirting, which I know is simply part of a woman’s nature. But that was when she hit me.

Hit me right in the jaw, she did – precisely where her brute of a lover had struck me earlier, and, it seemed to me, she hit me harder. Sure and it hurt more. And then she kicked me! Truly those two are a match for each other, aye. I’m well out of it.

I am.

As I reeled, catching myself on the porch railing, Meredith grabbed my shirt in a grip far stronger than I’d have expected from a lass. She pressed her face close to mine, and all I could see was her wide green eyes, and the fires that roared behind them.

“Now you shut the fuck up, and you listen to me, you piece of shit. I have no master. Nobody fucking owns me. Nobody. You do not have the right to question me, or to judge me, no matter what I choose to do: because I choose. Not you.” She swallowed – she had sprayed me with spittle in her fury – and then drew back. “And I choose to remove you from my life. I choose to never fucking see you again.”

Then she slapped me. In the same eye that the rogue had cut earlier. Again, I reeled under the pain, as Meredith let go of her hold on my shirt, walked back down the steps, and drove off in her beast-wagon. I watched her go with blood running into my eye, the cut opened anew by her ring.

I am suddenly very tired.

Perhaps I do not understand this. There is so much else that is strange, here; perhaps I am wrong in this instance as I have been before, as when I marooned Morty the shopkeep; what I had hoped would keep him from causing trouble for us ere we departed led to greater trouble than I would have found had I been seeking it. Too, my involvement with the Latin Lions led to suffering for the Family Lopez, as well as for myself and my crew; and though they did not weigh heavily on my conscience, being the pack of scalawags they had been, still there had been much blood spilled, almost entirely by myself and my men. Too much blood. I have thought, since then, that less mayhem could have ensued had I acted elsewise than I did.

Perhaps I misunderstand the meaning of two rings of one pattern, worn on the hands of a man and a woman. Perhaps the trouble was the term “betrothed;” in truth I am often incapable of making myself understood to these people of this world. Perhaps that was the trouble.

Perhaps the trouble is merely that I tried to talk about honor to a woman. My mother understands honor; I have known a few other women who do, as well. None since we came to this time. Well – Dame Margaret does, it seems. But surely not her granddaughter.

I have recorded all of this in detail so that I may think it over again, and see if I have gone wrong, and if so, where.

Bah. Women.

 

Log

27th of September in the year 2011

Well, and if I had thought that all I would have to bear was the pain suffered from Meredith’s betrayal and from the twin thrashings she and her man inflicted – sure and this would be a fine honeymoon, would it not? “Come beat the heartsick Irishman, man and wife together for a single price!” – I would have been wrong. There was far more suffering to come.

And – perhaps – a remedy to all ills.

It began this morn with Lynch. I have not been easy with him since he insulted me at the inn, when I would not interfere in the kerfuffle between the man and his woman in the adjacent room and he implied that I am no good man. Though I did argue with him when he first applied that description to me, nonetheless it did sting when he seemed to withdraw it. I have felt his continued disapprobation directed towards my deeds and decisions here in Charleston, though he has not seen fit to voice an objection.

Until this morn.

As we broke our fast, I grumbling as I chewed of the pain in my twice-struck jaw, Lynch dropped his spoon in his bowl with a clatter (Though I and the other men prefer the local porridge, called by Dame Margaret “grits,” and the Grables are fond of eggs atop toasted bread, Lynch opts for a strange form of clotted cream called yogurt, with fruit mixed in. Seems a cold, clammy sort of meal.) after I had made some remark or other about seeking out Meredith and giving her and her shrewishness a thorough tongue-lashing. He looked at me with fiery eyes and asked, “What are you doing?”

I noticed, but did not comment on, how he left off the Captain he usually entitles me. I met his glare, somewhat belligerent from the ache in my jaw and brow, and asked, “What do ye mean, boy?”

He stood from his chair. “What are you doing here, Captain?” Since I said “boy” instead of “lad,” my title received a thick tarring of sarcasm. He went on. “Why are ye acting like some dandified noble grousing on insults to his honor? Or to a lady’s honor?”

I tried to interject, but now the boy had the bit between his teeth, and he ran on. “Are ye our captain, our pirate captain, or are ye some cock-o-the-walk popinjay who will challenge any man to a duel who looks at him cross-wise?”

I slapped the table. “Ye heard what that pig said to me! What would you have me do? Should I not defend my lady’s honor when her good name must bear such dire insult?”

He threw his hands in the air. “She’s not your lady, Captain! That’s what that rogue said to ye, and I heard it well!” He leaned on his fists on the table. “I heard what ye said to the lady Meredith last night, as well, and ye did not seem so very concerned with sparing her insult.”

I came out of my chair, turning my back on him. “Bah – what do you know of matters between men and women, ye wee stripling!” But even while I said this, I did not – I could not – defend what I had spake to Meredith Vance. Recalling it, and thinking of that ballyhoo being overheard by other ears, I felt shame.

I was soon to feel more.

But I went on. “I recall ye saying to me, not two days gone, that a good man should do more. So ye’d have me defend a woman I know not, but ignore when a lout ill-uses our hostess here? Have ye no honor yourself, boy?”

Lynch recoiled as though I had struck him. Then he nodded. “So. Ye’d have me – us – think ye were defending Meredith Vance’s honor. And not fighting like a jealous stallion over another who threatened to take your mare.”

I scoffed and said, “Aye! ‘Tis true. I’d defend any lady’s honor in similar distress.”

His eyes narrowed. “Would you defend my honor, then?” I blinked at this, and he turned red in the face. Then he flipped his hand to dismiss the slip and said, “Would ye defend the honor of your crew, of your shipmates?”

‘Twas a deep blow, and I drew up proudly and said, “Aye! I would!”

His eyes glittered like a viper’s as he struck. “Then why haven’t you? Our crew – your men – are held captive! Along with your ship! We have not one bit of knowledge of how they fare, nor if they even live! And here you sit, carping over your – your jealous spat?”

I admit I spluttered at this, but I rallied quickly. “Nay! Nay, I seek only – Meredith is a pilot! She can fly us to the Grace and the men!” I looked to the others for support of this, our plan all along, the goal I had been working towards.

Hadn’t I?

They would not meet my gaze.

Lynch would. “Perhaps ye have not noticed, Captain;” now I wished he would stop calling me that, so contemptuous did he sound; “perhaps your gaze has been elsewhere, but I have seen those same flying ships overhead every day! There be hundreds of them, not just one, not just Lady Meredith’s! While we sit here in this house and you get in lover’s brawls, we could be finding another pilot, another flying ship! We could be booking passage on one, as she suggested we do to go north!”

I was in full retreat now. “We – we have not the funds.”

He slapped the table. I jumped. “Damn it, man, are ye not a pirate? If we have not wealth, we take it! If we cannot do that, we could bargain, trade our service for passage! If ye would only pull your head out of your arse!”

He stormed from the room.

Kelly and Shane and the Grables followed in silence. None had a word to say to me, kind or otherwise.

I fell back into my chair and stared at – nothing. At my own folly, writ large now that Lynch had torn the scales from my eyes and showed it to me. Showed me myself.

I think now that the trouble we have faced did not spring from a woman. I think it sprang from me.

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